With EU enlargement, many worry that a wave of unskilled workers from the new eastern states will sweep the wealthy west. But a new study from the European Commission suggests such fears are unfounded.
Supporters of EU enlargement in Ireland -- still a restriction-free zone for immigrants
Responding to concerns about an influx of immigrants from eastern Europe, countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy have introduced restrictions banning workers from the new EU states for up to seven years.
But such restrictions may prove to be an overreaction. A new study by the European Commission on migration trends in an enlarged Europe found that relatively few people from the accession countries plan on moving west.
Around 1 percent of the population (1.1 million people) from the 10 new member states have a "firm" intention to migrate, the EU executive body said. But the study's figures showed the possible number of migrants to be three times higher, with 4.5 percent of the population expressing a "general inclination" to move west within the next five years.
Those most likely to migrate were from Poland, where one in 100 adults said they definitely plan to move. People from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were the least likely to emigrate.
"This study confirms the commission's view that fears of a huge wave of migration from the new member states will be proven to be unfounded," said Margot Wallström, EU commissioner for employment and social affairs. "The new member states will provide a much-needed input of highly skilled individuals able to contribute actively to the development of the European economy."
But it's exactly the "input of highly skilled individuals" that, according to the commission, is the biggest potential problem posed by enlargement. It warned that the new member states could experience a "brain drain," should they lose their best and brightest students. The study predicted that one in ten graduates and students would head west in the next five years.
As if to further undermine the scare stories appearing in Europe's right-wing press about floods of immigrants, the commission also said that two-thirds of all migration is likely to be of a temporary nature. If economic and social conditions in the new member states improve as a result of enlargement, there will be a greater chance that migrants will return to their home countries in the 10 years following accession.
Ireland still restriction-free
With just two months to go until enlargement, Ireland is the only EU state that has kept its promise not to restrict access to labor markets and welfare for new immigrants. Earlier this week, Britain went back on its pledge of no restrictions and introduced a two-year ban on benefit claims as well as a worker registration scheme.
Romani Prodi, European Commission president
Commenting on the various restrictions, European Commission President Romano Prodi (photo) said he was concerned about the message they send to the new EU members. "I've already expressed my worry about it because this is not a generous act," Prodi said. "It's difficult for me to share a special emergency preoccupation about that. I don't think that the number of potential immigrants will be so huge."